Apex builders

Gar O'Brien

Member
Messages
215
Folks,

This is probably a stupid question that's been answered before, but I couldn't turn up an answer from searching. So you have your Apex builders like Suhr, Anderson, Thorn, Lentz etc... they tend to hover in or around the $5k mark for a custom instrument. Give or take. So looking at companies like Stevenson, Gustavsson (and to a lesser extent Ruokangas), what are you paying the extra $5k or so for? Is it exclusivity? The fact that it's one person building them? I'm sure the answer is probably obvious, but I'd like to hear your thoughts

Thanks!
 

cardinal

Member
Messages
5,197
This probably has been beaten to dead, but you're paying for artistry. Really anything beyond picking up a modern import with a nice fret job is "excess" in terms of playability. What you're buying is artwork and the personal expression that goes with it. Nothing wrong with that.
 

Gar O'Brien

Member
Messages
215
This probably has been beaten to dead, but you're paying for artistry. Really anything beyond picking up a modern import with a nice fret job is "excess" in terms of playability. What you're buying is artwork and the personal expression that goes with it. Nothing wrong with that.
Absolutely agree. If something moves you and you have the cash, go for it! I was just curious as to the why really :) In fairness, there's a huge difference between my anderson and my ebmm - just wondering if it extended up :)
 

cardinal

Member
Messages
5,197
I mean, there are preferences and variations between guitars, sure. I've owned a few Andersons and played several EBMMs, as well as owning and playing a ton of other fancy stuff. But I have a particular Squier that I like just about as well as anything. But where's the fun in that, so I still have other stuff too.
 

beorn

Member
Messages
1,783
So looking at companies like Stevens, Gustavsson (and to a lesser extent Ruokangas), what are you paying the extra $5k or so for?
The answer is going to vary based on the guitar, the builder, and the player.

I've seen Hubers with extreme inlay work and beautiful tops offered at $15K or so. That's just a guitar-as-art pitch; it's not about playability or tone, and the regular Dolphins at half that are going to play and sound just as good. But they also have the killer Huber neck joint, which seems a very practical innovation for playing and tone in several different ways.

You mentioned Ruokangas; they do unusual things like temper-treat (bake, basically) the tops to recreate the sonic properties and stability of old wood, and they use an exotic material (moose shinbone) for the nut because it's harder and slipperier, and the top wood is also often Arctic birch, which requires them to work directly with lumberjacks to harvest the wood from forests (not a thing most luthiers do). The frets are not just stainless, but have rounded ends. There are a lot of details like that. On the other hand, there's a big price difference between the super-figured tops and the plain tops and that's not at all about tone or playing; it's just bling.

Stevens has been known to do fetish guitars that are super-painstaking, accurate recreations of vintage Gibsons and they can go about as much as the Huber listed above. His LJ and Neo Classic guitars features numerous innovative strengths like the elegant cuts on the back, the option to slant the pups to get a tighter low end and warmer high end, they often include hard-to-get pricey boutique pickups like Holmes, etc.

So there's not a single answer, but all these guys do in general offer extraordinary build quality and both aesthetic and practical innovations that appeal in various ways. Whether the price is justified in a given case is a question that can only be answered by a particular buyer, with regard to a particular guitar.
 

cardinal

Member
Messages
5,197
The answer is going to vary based on the guitar, the builder, and the player.

I've seen Hubers with extreme inlay work and beautiful tops offered at $15K or so. That's just a guitar-as-art pitch; it's not about playability or tone, and the regular Dolphins at half that are going to play and sound just as good. But they also have the killer Huber neck joint, which seems a very practical innovation for playing and tone in several different ways.

You mentioned Ruokangas; they do unusual things like temper-treat (bake, basically) the tops to recreate the sonic properties and stability of old wood, and they use an exotic material (moose shinbone) for the nut because it's harder and slipperier, and the top wood is also often Arctic birch, which requires them to work directly with lumberjacks to harvest the wood from forests (not a thing most luthiers do). The frets are not just stainless, but have rounded ends. There are a lot of details like that. On the other hand, there's a big price difference between the super-figured tops and the plain tops and that's not at all about tone or playing; it's just bling.

Stevens has been known to do fetish guitars that are super-painstaking, accurate recreations of vintage Gibsons and they can go about as much as the Huber listed above. His LJ and Neo Classic guitars features numerous innovative strengths like the elegant cuts on the back, the option to slant the pups to get a tighter low end and warmer high end, they often include hard-to-get pricey boutique pickups like Holmes, etc.

So there's not a single answer, but all these guys do in general offer extraordinary build quality and both aesthetic and practical innovations that appeal in various ways. Whether the price is justified in a given case is a question that can only be answered by a particular buyer, with regard to a particular guitar.
I guess it boils down to semantics, but to me all of what you said distills down to the "guitar-as-art pitch." Fancy inlays, definitely. Historic reproduction, to me, also is an art form. And when folks can wail on an off-the-shelf Squier and can't tell whether a guitar played in a clip is an LP or Tele (I at least fall into both, and I think the vast majority of folks do too), to me all the exotic materials and painstaking construction methods also are just an expression of the builder's art.

And it's all worth the money if someone buys it. Just like any other art piece.
 

slowerhand

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,205
It could be the "art", but sometimes it's also just reputation. If you're the "in" builder of the moment, you almost have to raise your price to keep demand under control. All those 10k builders were making guitars for much less, usually not all that long ago.

Without getting into names, I've played some uber-expensive guitars that left me underwhelmed, and some reasonably priced small-builder guitars that I think are as good as anything. I think the difference is sometimes no more than some being more active/successful at promoting themselves.
 
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beorn

Member
Messages
1,783
I guess it boils down to semantics, but to me all of what you said distills down to the "guitar-as-art pitch." Fancy inlays, definitely. Historic reproduction, to me, also is an art form. And when folks can wail on an off-the-shelf Squier and can't tell whether a guitar played in a clip is an LP or Tele (I at least fall into both, and I think the vast majority of folks do too), to me all the exotic materials and painstaking construction methods also are just an expression of the builder's art
Sure. When I said "guitar-as-art" I mean visual art. Hence all that work in the $15K Huber inlay. Doesn't affect tone or playability.

Things like heat-treated woods, or belly cuts, or slanted pickups... those are also artistic choices, from the luthier's standpoint, but they are meant primarily to improve the guitar as a tool to make music. Anything ergonomic, anything that affects tone, has a pragmatic quality that inlays or pretty tops do not, and therefore a different strength as a selling point.
 

Kid Tele

Member
Messages
387
I think supply and demand is the simple answer. Luthiers who wish to continue to remain small sometimes need to raise prices to keep from being flooded with orders as word gets out. Could you imagine the backlog if Gustavvson didn't raise his prices and continued to charge $5K for a Bluesmaster? At the end of the day he would have a very long wait list and pissed off clients.

Every buyer has their own threshold for what they are willing to spend vs. perceived quality received. Some won't pay more than the price of a MIK Stat. Personally, I would not pay close to $10K for a general F or G style guitar because I know that for under $10K I could custom order an "apex" archtop or acoustic from the likes of Buscarino, Comins, Sexauer, etc. However, I respect those who have a higher comfort level and hope that some day mine will increase if finances dictate.

BTW, I am pretty sure that member Teleplayer coined the term "Apex Builder". Please send him a nickel every time its used. :rotflmao
 

Gar O'Brien

Member
Messages
215
I think supply and demand is the simple answer. Luthiers who wish to continue to remain small sometimes need to raise prices to keep from being flooded with orders as word gets out. Could you imagine the backlog if Gustavvson didn't raise his prices and continued to charge $5K for a Bluesmaster? At the end of the day he would have a very long wait list and pissed off clients.

Every buyer has their own threshold for what they are willing to spend vs. perceived quality received. Some won't pay more than the price of a MIK Stat. Personally, I would not pay close to $10K for a general F or G style guitar because I know that for under $10K I could custom order an "apex" archtop or acoustic from the likes of Buscarino, Comins, Sexauer, etc. However, I respect those who have a higher comfort level and hope that some day mine will increase if finances dictate.

BTW, I am pretty sure that member Teleplayer coined the term "Apex Builder". Please send him a nickel every time its used. :rotflmao
Haha, yeah, I probably should :) To be fair, it really is le mot juste!
 

sidekick

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,530
I guess that for some there could be the feeling of a degree of exclusivity, although you can add to that whatever 'individuality' you feel the respective 'apex' luthier brings to the build.

As for me, I like the 'Tele/Paul' shape aesthetically and I also think that Johan's guitars convey an example of what some of the original 50's era perceived classics should have 'evolved' into ... My avatar pic '04 BM pickup configuration with old woods, gives me all what my old '54 Les Paul Gold top did in terms of guitar ownership satisfaction, while also giving me elements of an old Burst together with better overall playability/function as well.
 

Gar O'Brien

Member
Messages
215
I guess that for some there could be the feeling of a degree of exclusivity, although you can add to that whatever 'individuality' you feel the respective 'apex' luthier brings to the build.

As for me, I like the 'Tele/Paul' shape aesthetically and I also think that Johan's guitars convey an example of what some of the original 50's era perceived classics should have 'evolved' into ... My avatar pic '04 BM pickup configuration with old woods, gives me all what my old '54 Les Paul Gold top did in terms of guitar ownership satisfaction, while also giving me elements of an old Burst together with better overall playability/function as well.
To be fair, she is STUNNING!
 

narad

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,397
Not a stupid question at all! I myself am fascinated with apex builders ever since I was a little kid. I used to hang this poster next to my bed:



Did you know Apex Builders can grow up to 6 meters tall and have a top speed of over 25 miles per hour? And Gustavssaurus had vice grips which could generate up to 3 metric tons of crushing strength! And some Apex Builders were even capable of inflated their prices up to 3x their original size when threatened -- Fascinating!
 

Gar O'Brien

Member
Messages
215
Not a stupid question at all! I myself am fascinated with apex builders ever since I was a little kid. I used to hang this poster next to my bed:



Did you know Apex Builders can grow up to 6 meters tall and have a top speed of over 25 miles per hour? And Gustavssaurus had vice grips which could generate up to 3 metric tons of crushing strength! And some Apex Builders were even capable of inflated their prices up to 3x their original size when threatened -- Fascinating!
I doff my hat to you sir - well, as soon as I mopped up the tea I spat everywhere laughing at this :)

Seriously, you win the internet today!
 

Shane Sanders

Member
Messages
1,565
I think sometimes there's a set of factors such as materials and combinations of features that are not typically found in other guitars that can and should influence the tier the product lives at. It costs quite a lot of money to model product components in CAD and then CNC them in aluminium or to make molds that result in decorative/functional parts.
 

whoismarykelly

Oh look! This is a thing I can change!
Messages
7,982
Above the Anderson/Suhr/Collings price point you're getting exclusivity and buying into the idea that a craftsman can say, "I need to make X amount of money to live but I only want to make X amount of guitars per year." The math is simple.
 

edwarddavis

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
7,319
I don't know the formula for
Pricing but some guitars never get old playing them
Some play good some times
It's all the small things that make many worth it
 

fishleehooker

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
7,237
Above the Anderson/Suhr/Collings price point you're getting exclusivity and buying into the idea that a craftsman can say, "I need to make X amount of money to live but I only want to make X amount of guitars per year." The math is simple.
He can say that if he wants, perhaps. Once that price is set, he better measure up though. The ones that do measure up, are the ones that seem to have staying power at the top. Getting to the Apex isn't as hard as staying there in anything, particularly Apex guitar building.
 

whoismarykelly

Oh look! This is a thing I can change!
Messages
7,982
He can say that if he wants, perhaps. Once that price is set, he better measure up though. The ones that do measure up, are the ones that seem to have staying power at the top. Getting to the Apex isn't as hard as staying there in anything, particularly Apex guitar building.
Ideally yes. But staying power is more relevant to production guitars. If you make 12 guitars a year and you have three years of sales lined up, there isn't much about staying power to worry about. You would have to deliver complete garbage to lost it at that point.
 




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